With a foot of snow on the ground and near zero temps, this seems an apt time for an excerpt from my new herbal, Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles. The kindle version is out now; daughter Elise is formatting the print book. Lots of images to fit in. And now–apples. Bet you didn’t know they belonged in an herbal.
The history and lore behind apples is fascinating. And we all know what Johnny Appleseed thought vital to plant in America. The thing that most struck me in reading about apples, is how the history of the apple is closely linked with the history of man. From the earliest times, wherever people went, the apple went, and is associated with peace and a gentler life. If folk settled down, built a cottage and planted apple trees, that spoke to domesticity and disinterest in warfare. Maybe more people should plant them today. I do. And then all hold hands and sing the Johnny Appleseed Blessing to help bring about world peace.
Back to apples. These early cultivars weren’t the sweet fruit we know today, but much smaller and tarter. In the Middle Ages, most apples were made into cider. By Shakespeare’s day, the new varieties were referred to as ‘dessert apples’ and served accompanied by caraway. Apples were probably introduced into Britain by the Romans and have a long history of use there. In the Scottish Highlands, the crabapple tree is the badge of the Lamont clan.
(Image of Cox’s Orange Pippin, an old heirloom apple)
From A Modern Herbal: “The chief dietetic value of apples lies in the malic and tartaric acids. These acids are of benefit to persons of sedentary habits, who are liable to liver derangements, and they neutralize the acid products of gout and indigestion. (You don’t want a deranged liver).
Apple cookery is very early English: Piers Ploughman mentions ‘all the povere peple’ who ‘baken apples broghte in his lappes’ and the ever popular apple pie was no less esteemed in Tudor times than it is today, only our ancestors had some predilections in the matter of seasonings that might not now appeal to all of us, for they put cinnamon and ginger in their pies and gave them a lavish colouring of saffron. The original pomatum seems to date from the herbalist Gerard’s days (1545-1612), when an ointment for roughness of the skin was made from apple pulp, swine’s grease, and rosewater. The Apple will also act as an excellent dentifrice.”
(Image of a knight, his lady, and an apple)
(Crab apple in our yard)
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” ~Martin Luther